A quick tango on the beach

The early morning scene at Boulder’s Beach hums with activity as the African penguins rouse for the day.   On the domestic front, the nesting sites are vigorously dug over, sand flying out the deeper holes.  Often there is a squabble or two with loud protestation – these little creatures relative to their size have voice projection in volumes. Down at the waters edge groups preen and stretch preparing to go out to sea leaving the chicks huddled together in the creche area.   The adults have a straight backed posture and though they waddle, it is with intent.   Down to the sea they go – just for some though, there’s the odd dalliance –

Res Nullius

Two separate encounters with different baboon troops this week left me wryly thinking about the strange anomaly in their conservation management.  They are a protected species here on the Peninsula but the job of conserving the troops falls under the management of different authorities.  There’s a certain irony even trying to curtail the movement of wild, agile creatures yet the troops living between the suburbs are assigned rangers to move them along and keep them out of the residential areas.  Broadly defined as “res nullius” – a thing belonging to no one whether because never appropriated (as a wild animal) – allows  certain wildlife authorities to conveniently pass the buck.  The main responsibility of the rangers is to prevent them from developing raiding patterns for seeking out human-derived food.

Pictured below are scenes of the Smitswinkel troop (which roam on the outside beyond the boundaries of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve) visiting the Reserve and raiding the facilities at the entrance, while the City’s contracted conservation rangers aren’t allowed in to chase them out!!

Juvenile baboons raiding a refuse bin at the entrance to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
Juvenile baboon lifting window to widen the gap to get in.

Displaying his agility, a young baboon jumps clear after exiting a window.

Deeper into the CoGH park, here’s the scene where a local park troop rouses and warms in the rays of the early morning sun before setting off for the day’s foraging in the fynbos where for the most part, they roam freely without being tagged or monitored by full time rangers.

Baboons in the early morning light, gathering before moving on for the day.
Sheltering out of the cold wind, baboons warm in the sun, limbs tucked in tight to their bodies.
Enjoying the warmth of the early morning sunshine.

 

Roaming along the urban edge: dispersing male baboon

Some years ago this young baboon came on a ‘recce’ round our neighbourhood.  It’s not an easy life  when that testosterone kicks in and the males leave the natal troop to hook up with another.  Dispersing along the urban edge brings a raft of problems not least finding the way through the suburbs. To assist them they are often darted with a sedative and transferred by vehicle to another area where there are nearby troops. The transition and being accepted into another troop takes time, and it’s not always successful.

Butcher birds: stocking the larder

Don’t know if you’re like me and always root for the underdog?   With the nesting season in full swing, the birds around the garden have adapted to wary vigilance – there are raptors about, and smaller more common birds of the prey, the fiscal shrike.   They too have chicks in the nest and we watch as they stake out an area and then swoop down to catch their prey.  Commonly known as ‘butcher birds’ for their custom of spiking their live prey onto sharp thorns or barbed wire.

We regularly sight the little four-striped field mice and i’ve been lucky to grab photo opportunities when they’re out sunning themselves or at times raiding our kitchen.  There’s no harm done (other than the loss of cotton tassels from the carpet runners used for nesting material) as we shoo them out sometimes with an added bit of encouragement with the use of a broom.

A far cuter species is the dainty Cape pygmy mouse – about half the size of a field mouse but a most engaging and agile creature.    My neighbours have a policy of catch and release when these little fellas pitch up in their kitchen and for some years we’ve been relocating them in a custom designed box to an open patch of vegetation on the other side of our houses.

The smallest of the mice species, the pygmy mouse.

Imagine then, while we were quietly enjoying a beer at sunset, a butcher bird flew in and spiked a mouse on a sharp thorn at the top most reaches of the bougainvillea creeper.  Brutal!  But was it one of the relocated pygmy mice?!  Or was it more likely to be a ‘stripey’?   Darn it’s cruel out there.

A quick look around the neighbourhood

It’s been a while since i last posted and since returning home after some months of travel, it is heartening to be back in the rainy season.  And rain we have, buckets of it.  The dams are filling nicely and it looks promising that the harsh drought conditions are behind us.

My travel adventures begin to dim as i hook up again into the language of the familiar, but i’d love to share some of the experiences once i’ve got the photos sorted.  There are so many aspects when travel unfolds, from the hubbub of major cities to the quiet of the backroads.  Nature delivered some drama too, a bruising from the ‘Beast from the East’ to the unfurling of an exuberant Northern Hemisphere spring.  I had a lucky encounter with a Falconer and a Red kestrel working King’s Cross Railway station; stumbled across the Richmond deer herd in a snow storm, met “Cheddar Man” at the Natural history museum; rambled over hill and dale where meadow flowers bloomed in profusion.  All the while discovering new habitats and learning to read the landscape – from bluebell glades, acidic uplands, limestone pavements, salt marshes and water, water, water!  But most intriguing was seeing how nature finds it’s footing within eco-niches in densely populated urban areas.  Who’d have thought that a visit to Tate Modern would also bring a viewing of peregrine falcons nesting high up in the very same building or of foxes roaming boldly through some of the inner London suburbs?

Settling back again into a Cape routine, the dawn chorus comes rustling in with a guttural cacophony of Egyptian geese, hadedah ibis and raucous gulls.  I watch in delight as furry creatures scurry across the lawn (green and verdant now) – a mongoose scampers by with two pintsized, energetic juveniles, the baboons make quick unannounced visits, and so too, the nocturnal porcupine family with it’s gorgeous, prickly little baby.  Further along the road, the penguin nursery is in full swing attending to the raising of young.   This wild bevy of beauties makes my heart soar – here is a natural world right on the doorstep.  The wagtails and sunbirds are searching for nesting places and down below on the rocks the dassies sun themselves after the rain showers.  A single otter comes often, mud-bathing in the wet black soil.  My next door neighbours describe exciting sightings of two caracals, an adult and a youngster, and the opportunity to observe these secretive wild lynx at close quarters.

All in all it’s good to be back!